How writing to the Herald could get you into trouble

As the late Max Bygraves used to say “I want to tell you a story”. This is based on the points made in this Wings article https://wingsoverscotland.com/nazi-pugs-fuck-off/#more-102034. Basically Campbell’s thesis in this is based on Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 which makes it an offence for anyone who

  1. (a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

(b) causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

This can get you six months in the poky, or a fine of five grand, or both.

Campbell bases his argument first of all on his own experience, when he was charged – though never prosecuted – for breach of the above offence. One instance was when he suggested to Chris Cairns – who just happens to be his cartoonist – while he was having difficulty managing the new interface on Adobe Photoshop, that he might just “fire a nail gun into your forehead because it will hurt less”. In short, while Stuart Campbell has never headed the advice I was given once that one should never put anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in front of your maiden aunt, the evidence against him was gossamer thin, and depended on some pretty special, and quite ridiculous interpretations of what he had said.

Nonetheless, he had his computer equipment impounded by the Met Police, was detained for 10 hours and released only on Police bail for three months with his future personal freedom a matter of conjecture. He was also at the wrong end of further bad publicity from the mainstream media – though that, of course, was before the charges were dropped.

Now, it might, MIGHT, be argued that Stuart has taken this all a wee bit far, but it reminded me of an exchange I had on the Herald with one Peter Russell, who describes himself on his website as having been since 1985 “PA to successive Leaders of the Council [Glasgow City Council], then in economic policy, social policy, and international strategies, ending up as Advisor to the Lord Provost.”.

This began with a letter by Peter Russell, published by the Herald on 21st December, which I have added as an appendix. But basically what he was suggesting was that since Scotland sells four times as much to the rUK as to the EU it would be bad idea to leave the UK, particularly as they send us 15 billion every year to keep us going

What I took offence at was the customary reference to the degree to which Scotland is “subsidised” by the rest of the UK “we are sent £15 billion” etc, which depends utterly on the very dodgy GERS figures which, even GERS makes clear, would have no relevance were we independent. My reply is letter 2 at the end.

In this as well as the GERS argument, which is always used one year at a time, I pointed to the calculations by such as Gordon McIntyre-Kemp, the Fiscal Commission and Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, that between 1980 and 2012 Scotland, if independent and even if we spent the revenue in the same way as Westminster did, would have an accumulated surplus of between £50 billion and £148 billion. I also asked why we needed to be sent this largesse by the UK.

For this the very next day, the following reply was published from Mr Russell (this is letter 3):

Now there are all kinds of issues in his reply, not least his reference to “investments”, spreading risk etc, which if you think about it undermines his own argument, as the £15 billion (if you are prepared to accept the figure) is simply risk management – our return for all the dosh we put in before. I would thought suggest we would also do well to think about changing our investment manager. But those are points for another day.

The main issue is the sentence reading “The first is a surprisingly unsophisticated view of the economy, in that he seems to believe that revenues originating in Scotland over the past 35 years were shipped off south and straight into the pockets of the greedy English, never to return” and in particular the reference to “the greedy English”.

A re-reading of my letter will confirm that I never used either the words “greedy” or “English” in my letter at all, never mind consecutively. Rather, my argument was that, leaving to one side the validity of GERS, by focusing only on a single year Russell is able to ignore that over a much longer period Scotland has not only been a net contributor, but a significant net contributor to the UK. However it is his view that I have slighted the “greedy English” by pointing out that the accumulated surplus earned by Scotland over 32 years was shipped off to London (which btw it was and used to give Thatcher’s pals their tax breaks, and to pay the dole for all the poor sods who lost their jobs in the “Thatcher revolution”).

In case you haven’t quite got my point yet, following Russell’s process of argumentation, it is possible – for him anyway, plus anyone of similar view – to define any argument which says that Scotland does not get a good deal into a claim that the fault lies with the “greedy English” – as it was formulated this time.

To date, this hasn’t happened, but Peter Russell being English – born in Middlesex and not moving to Glasgow till 1985 – could claim that such arguments are, as the Communications Act requires, “grossly offensive” to him. Or if not him, then anyone else. And remember, this can get one kept in custody for 10 hours and put on Police bail for 3 months as well having your pcs, phone etc impounded while the Police look through them. Clearly, it’s something we could all do without.

But all of that was about 15 months ago. But recently the issue has come back to us when Brian Cox claimed on Question Time (15/03/2018) that “leaving England is a different thing”. This drew a letter from Mr Russell on 17th (letter 4)

This includes the sentence “In other words, to Mr Cox, England is such an exceptionally bad place that it is a uniquely unsuitable partner for Scotland, unlike France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta or any other country he can think of” is offensive to me, but as I am not French etc and it’s because of its utter stupidity, I cannot do anything about it. I did though write a letter which was published by the Herald on the 18th (letter 5)

This letter focuses on the facts that Brian Cox was (all too typically) cut off by Dimbleby, and could have then elaborated on his point rather than the few bald words “Leaving England is different”. But more importantly it makes the point that as the EU is an economic union mainly concerned with trade, and the UK is an all singing and dancing incorporating political union that deals with any facet of our lives that it cares to do so, the two are different, and therefore Brian Cox was right, that “leaving England is different”.

This did not however produce a reply from Mr Russell, but instead from Councillor Alex Gallagher (sometimes I wonder if they are the same person – have they ever been seen in the same room?): Letter 6

Even for Alex this is a pretty bizarre sort of effort. I actually wonder if he did read the letter, or just the headline. Or was just doing his fellow Labour apparatchik a favour? His letter is mostly notable for its utterly bizarre argument, as despite Gallagher’s assertion I do compare the EU and the UK (indeed I think its clear most of the letter is dedicated to this) but find that they are different, or exactly as Cox was arguing. In turn Gallagher’s letter drew a whole load of replies, one from me. Letter 7, which basically argues the above. However there is a new ingredient, as Gallagher explicitly raises the issue of “nasty nationalism, which echoes Russell’s attribution to Cox that we can be partners of anyone, just not England.

The point is that racism, and allegations of this are back on the table. Most concerning is Gallagher’s argument that “the language [of independence] has been modified in recent years says more for the need to pretend moderation to buy votes” In other words even rational argument in favour of independence is only to conceal the racist foundations of nationalism.

I would though recommend the other letters published on this topic that day, as many of them are excellent. You can find them here http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/letters/16103980.Letters__Voting_SNP_is_in_no_way_a_sign_of_being_anti_English/

Russell, however, returns to the slips on the 23rd. (Letter 8)

I think the development in Russell’s position is most clearly expressed in his final paragraph, and in particular while he considers the UK as the political environment, us Nats “insist on driving whatever wedge they can between us, forever putting their own narrow political interest above the greater good. Their attitude towards England is an integral part of the same divisive and debilitating whole, no matter how much they try to excuse it or explain it away.” So British Nationalism = good, but Scottish Nationalism = bad, very bad, with not a single redeeming quality.

I would suggest that this is not very far from the suggestion that any attempt to justify Scottish independence might be “offensive” to anyone who is not Scottish, or even does not consider the UK in the terms that, for instance, I portrayed the UK in several of my letters.

Would such a prosecution succeed? Who knows? But is that the aim? Or is the aim to remove, or even just harry, anyone who argues in the public domain that Scotland should be independent? As above, Stuart might have made more of it than is justified at the moment, but the future might be another thing.

 

Appendices

Letter 1 – Peter Russell to Herald

You report that Nicola Sturgeon believes that losing single market membership could devastate Scotland’s economy (“Sturgeon: A single market exit would be devastating”, The Herald, December 20).

She is correct – assuming she means the UK single market, which to Scotland is worth four times that of the EU. We also share a single land mass, a common language, and common currency, a common labour force with common skills and qualification regime and unqualified freedom of movement, a common customs and taxation regime. On top of that, we are sent £15 billion per annum to support Scottish public services. All directly controlled by a common parliament of equal constituencies, but with key competences devolved.

So why does she wish to rip Scotland out of the Union against its will?

Peter A Russell”

 

Letter 2 – My letter to Herland replying to Letter 1

Peter Russell asserts in his letter today that Scotland is “sent £15 billion per annum to support Scottish public services”, but I am certain that he knows well this £15 billion is not some kind of munificent festive gift, but Scotland’s share of the UK deficit, which we will repay by a population share deduction from the block grant to service the UK’s £1 trillion debt.

But where does Mr Russell find his £15 billion figure? This comes from GERS, the accuracy of which has been subject to challenge, both in terms of its current accuracy as well as how much it tells us about an independent Scotland. But as it’s Christmas let’s ignore that argument for now and proceed on the basis that it is worrying that Scotland would have this level of deficit.

Mr Russell bases his argument on a single year, which is generally unwise as this can be misleading, and indeed if we adopt a more historical perspective, we find a range of estimates for the accumulated surplus Scotland would have earned between 1980 and 2011/12, varying between £50 billion (Gordon McIntyre-Kemp) and £148 billion (Jim and Margaret Cuthbert) with the Scottish Government’s Fiscal Commission in the middle between £82 billion and £116 billion.

These all use data from GERS and assume Scotland would fully fund its share of pre-1980 UK debt, and maintain the same levels of expenditure on services such as health, education and defence. They differ because of different assumptions about the rate of return that could be earned from the accumulated surplus. However, assuming a rate of return identical to what the UK had to pay on gilts gives an estimate of a Scottish sovereign wealth fund of “comfortably over £100 billion” (Jim and Margaret Cuthbert), with no public-sector debt.

Thus, rather than the UK in any sense sending us money, over the last 35 years the reality is that Scotland has overall – not over just a single year – been a net contributor to the UK.

I am sure Mr Russell will find these figures contentious (to say the least). But if so, he really should explain why Scotland needs to be “sent” £15 billion to support our public services when our economy has been run by Westminster for the last 309 years? If we are, as Dr Michael Kelly asserted the other day, “Begging bowl Scotland” then perhaps we should be asking ourselves whether we are prepared to continue to allow Westminster to manage our affairs for us any longer, when they don’t seem to be making much of a job of it?

Lastly, Mr Russell asks why the First Minister wants to “to rip Scotland out of the Union against its will”? This is an odd question, as Scotland will only leave the UK when its electorate votes for this in the next referendum. Perhaps he means Ms Sturgeon is looking NOT to have Scotland ripped out of the European Union against its will?

 

Letter 3 – Peter Russell replying to my letter 2

ALASDAIR Galloway (Letters, December 23) shows two things in his account of the cash flows between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The first is a surprisingly unsophisticated view of the economy, in that he seems to believe that revenues originating in Scotland over the past 35 years were shipped off south and straight into the pockets of the greedy English, never to return. In fact those revenues were retained within the same UK economy as the Scotland that generated them, and used for all sorts of things like social security, pensions, Regional Selective Assistance, tax cuts, the NHS.

Scotland benefited at the time from that public expenditure proportionately by population and need to the same degree as any other part of the UK, and of course continues to do so even as those revenues have declined. In these ways, the historic revenues to which Mr Galloway refers can be seen as investments which spread the risk and provide protection for an uncertain future.

The second is a certain meanness of spirit. The approach of regarding Scotland and the rest of the UK as hermetically sealed and indeed antagonistic units reflects an attitude of “what’s mine’s is mine and I am going to keep it.” The other way of looking at the same data is that the UK is a mechanism through which its different parts can share between, and support, each other for mutual benefit.

Of the above, one is the view of nationalists, and the other of social democrats and socialists. One is the philosophy of holding and keeping, and the other that of sharing, and supporting each other. I know which is more seasonal.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Peter A. Russell

 

Letter 4 – Russell’s letter re QT and Brian Cox

BBC’s Question Time is not what it used to be in the time of Sir Robin Day, or even Peter Sissons, but it still has the ability to produce some illuminating insights. Good examples are the “muddle not a fiddle” assertion of the hapless Henry McLeish and the hilarious silence of one of the SNP’s top brains, Joanna Cherry MP, when asked the simple question “what currency would an independent Scotland use?” (We are of course still waiting for an answer to that question, from Ms Cherry or anyone else at all.)

The latest edition (March 15) provided another such moment. The wealthy expatriate actor Brian Cox was asked by an audience member why he was pleading for political unity across the EU when he was committed to destroying that same unity with the rest of the UK. His answer was: “leaving England is a different thing.” In other words, to Mr Cox, England is such an exceptionally bad place that it is a uniquely unsuitable partner for Scotland, unlike France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta or any other country he can think of.

SNP politicians like Nicola “My granny came from Sunderland” Sturgeon or English-born Michael Russell may claim it is not the case, but the mask has slipped. They can say “some of my best friends are…” as much as they like, but we can see exactly what drives the nationalism of the likes of Mr Cox.

Peter A Russell,

Letter 5 – My letter to Herald reply to Peter Russell’s Letter 4

It was always predictable that when Brian Cox uttered the words “”leaving England is a different thing” that the Unionist side of the independence debate would be all over it like a rash. And so, it has proved, with comments such as “the truth at last”, and Peter Russell’s letter offers another example.

What Cox said immediately beforehand, in response to a question from the audience that “if unity is so important, why are you so for a Scottish referendum and Scottish independence?” is ignored in Mr Russell’s letter. Cox replies that “we wanted to stay in Europe, we didn’t want to leave Europe”, which of course is true as 62% of the EU referendum vote in Scotland was Remain. It is only after this Cox makes the “leaving England is a different thing” comment, drawing protests from some members of the audience. Even then, Cox is willing to respond, but David Dimbleby cuts him off from saying more to move to another panel member.

Had Dimbleby not done so, then some of the comment on social media would have been forestalled, because it is clear leaving the United Kingdom and leaving the European Union are quite different things because each is a different kind of Union.

The European Union is an economic Union whose powers are limited to matters of trade (so the customs union, internal market, commercial policy, consumer protection, and transport, and monetary policy for Euro countries), as well as fishing and agriculture. Other than this, the EU can only “support, coordinate or complement the action of EU countries” in areas such as tourism, sport, culture, education and health, but are explicitly not allowed to require harmonisation of any member state’s laws or regulations.

The UK, on the other hand, can be considered an example of an “incorporating political Union”, where two states – for instance England and Scotland – are entirely dissolved into a new state, This means that the powers of the state created by the political Union of 1707 are those of a normal sovereign state, and thus certainly not restricted to trade, agriculture or fishing.

Of course, in 1999, some powers – on health and education etc. – were returned to Scotland by devolution. However, recent experience shows that it is always possible for Westminster to take these powers back or attenuate them. As the Supreme Court reminded us in the case brought by Gina Miller last year, “Parliamentary sovereignty is a fundamental principle of the UK constitution”, and “Parliament has “the right to make or unmake any law whatsoever; and further, no person or body is recognised by the law as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament”.

Therefore, to compare the EU, an economic Union, mainly limited to matters of trade, to the incorporating and comprehensive political Union that is the UK is therefore not only unreasonable, but wrong, and even worse, utterly misleading. Brian Cox was correct. “Leaving England is a different thing”.

 

Letter 6 Alex Gallagher’s letter to the Herald

PETER A Russell (Letters, March 17) seems to have kicked the hornet’s nest of Nationalist reaction (Letters, March 20) by pointing out the anti-English flavour of Brian Cox’s contribution on BBC Question Time. In particular, Alasdair Galloway’s assertion that “it is wrong to compare the economic union of the EU with the political union of the UK” blithely ignores the fact that, in the context of Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon and other prominent Nationalists are currently making such comparisons on a daily, or even more frequent, basis. It sometimes appears that, contrary to Mr Galloway’s beliefs, comparing the unions of the EU and the UK is the Nationalists’ only strategy. But that’s ok. Logic, facts and evidence don’t come into it when defending the sacred cow of independence.

As for the denial that Scottish Nationalism is in any way anti-English: I’m old enough to remember when being anti-English was the only string to the SNP’s bow. In the 1970s and 80s when, incidentally, most of the current senior SNP leadership joined the party, there would be very little other motivation for doing so. That the language has been modified in recent years says more for the need to pretend moderation to buy votes than it does to the underlying emotional tug of nationalism’s need to create enemies where none exist. Brian Cox deserves our praise and thanks for disinterring the nasty reality and exposing it, once again, to the light of day.

Alex Gallagher,

 

Letter 7 – My letter replying to Alex Gallagher

Councillor Alex Gallagher claims I asserted that “it is wrong to compare the economic union of the EU with the political union of the UK”. However, this was the headline to my letter rather than anything in the letter itself, so Gallagher would do better to direct his criticism toward the headline writer.

Indeed, my letter makes precisely the sort of comparison of the two Unions that, according to Gallagher, “Nicola Sturgeon and other prominent Nationalists are currently making … on a daily, or even more frequent, basis”, that the EU is an economic Union while the UK is an incorporating political Union, thus validating Brian Cox’s claim that “leaving England is a different thing”.

More importantly however, Cox’s statement and my defence of this only has anything to do with the “nasty reality” of nationalism, in Councillor Gallagher’s imagination. Nor is there any more justification for Peter Russell’s quite sordid and ridiculous accusation that Cox’s claim means that “England is such an exceptionally bad place that it is a uniquely unsuitable partner for Scotland, unlike France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta or any other country he can think of”.

What is certainly clear, though, is that making such generalised smears of racism remains part of the Unionist narrative against anyone who supports Scottish independence, as well as its significance in the mindset of Unionism.

Letter 8 – Russell replying to everyone who had been critical of his friend Alex

THE replies (March 22) to Alex Gallagher’s letter of March 21 regarding anti-England sentiment as an ingredient of Scottish Nationalism are an education in themselves, notably a perfect example of “some of my best friends are…'”and, as a bonus, a quite chilling reprise of Winnie Ewing’s Thatcheresque “enemy within” rhetoric.

It is quite easy to imagine the aftermath if the Brexit referendum had turned out differently: those supporters of the SNP who support EU membership would have said “thank god for that, the EU is not perfect, but we have to live with it and seek to change it from within.”. In contrast, in the identical case of the status quo having been confirmed in the case of Scotland’s referendum in 2014, they never stop their peevish and contrived complaining and noisome agitation for a re-run.

Those of us who disagree with Scottish nationalism simply wish for the outcome of the democratic vote taken freely by Scots to be respected and accepted in the same way, and for a political environment which is focused on improving the lives of Scots and English, Welsh and Northern Irish people alike, where we work and debate together to build a better UK from within. Scottish Nationalists, however, insist on driving whatever wedge they can between us, forever putting their own narrow political interest above the greater good. Their attitude towards England is an integral part of the same divisive and debilitating whole, no matter how much they try to excuse it or explain it away.

Peter A Russell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tactics 1

This is going to be the first of three interconnected blogs.

The first of these might be seen as raking over old coals, but it concerns a matter I consider important in several respects. First of all to get right just how and why the SNP lost their majority in May. Secondly to argue for the creation of an independence movement, which I hope the Convention next Saturday (14th January) will take forward. And lastly, to make a few points about the development of an elite group of independence bloggers.

I am, as I often am, grateful to the Rev Stewart Campbell for this tweet he put out just before the bells at New Year.

This refers to the “furore” (I use the word loosely) prior to the Holyrood election of whether independence minded voters should use their constituency and list votes to vote for the SNP in line with #BothVotesSNP – or, while using their constituency vote to support the SNP, they should vote for someone else on the List. Various established independence bloggers, such as Rev Campbell on Wings, Peter Bell, James Kelly and GA Ponsonby were quite clear that # BothVotesSNP (indyref2, as well as their own blogs) was the route to follow, while various rag tags such as me, squeaked from the gutter that this was just wrong.

The specific problem with this is that while Campbell is correct that the Green List vote increased by as much as 50%, it was from 4.4% in 2011 to 6.6% last May. In that regard four extra seats is arguably not a bad return, but to expect lots of List seats on the basis of a 2.2% increase in their vote is at best silly, arguably misleading and perhaps serves only to divert our attention from something else. Moreover, the main reason for the loss of majority was the SNP’s overall loss of 12 seats on the List, so we need to examine this rather than just revert to what seems obvious, in many regards because it has been voiced so often.

Of course, the whole matter is largely academic (at least until the next Holyrood election), but it seems that some people cannot let it go. One example is “The ‘Tactical Voting’ groupies are in denial” (http://indyref2.scot/the-tactical-voting-groupies-are-in-denial) by GA Ponsonby. While it’s a bit dated (7th May), there are two specific reasons for revisiting it.

First because its argument is demonstrably false, but seems to be becoming the accepted wisdom, even though. Secondly because of another article on the same website, published on 26th November by Peter Bell, “A dissenting voice” (http://indyref2.scot/a-dissenting-voice)., which, it seems to me is symbiotic to Ponsonby’s argument of six months ago, but ignores its problems and in fact, if anything, compounds them. Most importantly it concerns the Independence Convention Conference on 14th January.

Ponsonby argues that the proposition was made that the SNP could secure a majority purely because of the constituency seats they won. Frankly, I don’t remember that argument being made at all, and I would very much like to see an instance of it. Certainly the polls suggested a very strong constituency showing, but with “local issues” always were possibly going to intervene, so winning the lot was never a certainty. Moreover, they would have had to win 65 of 71 constituency seats (or 92%) to have a very slim majority of one. In fact, they won 59, or 83%, which was an increase of 6 constituency seats.

However, I, and others, had argued for some time that, based on a series of opinion polls prior to the election indicating a high degree of success in the constituency section, that it was hard to see the SNP picking up too many list seats. Ponsonby’s response to this is

“We can never know how many SNP voters were influenced by the claim that their List vote was wasted, what we do know is that the fall in the nationalist List vote cost the party List seats and ultimately a majority.”

This quite simply is not true. Let’s see why.

The table below sets out the results for each electoral region. I think the association between winning constituency seats and not winning list seats is obvious by inspection.

Region

Constituency seats won by SNP

Regional List seats won by SNP

  1. Glasgow

9 of 9

0

  1. Central Scotland

9 of 9

0

  1. North East Scotland

9 of 10

0

  1. Mid Scotland & Fife

8 of 9

0

  1. West Scotland

8 of 10

0

  1. Lothian

6 of 9

0

  1. Highlands & Islands

6 of 8

1

  1. South Scotland

4 of 9

3

 

In the first two regions – Glasgow and Central Scotland – the SNP won all the constituencies and none of the list seats. In regions 3 and 4 – North East Scotland and Mid Scotland & Fife – they won all but one seat in each, but again no list seats. In West of Scotland they won all but two constituencies, but still no list seats. It seems we need to get down to somewhere about winning ‘only’ two thirds or three quarters of the constituencies before winning list seats becomes possible, Its only once we get to the last region – South of Scotland – that the SNP win a significant number of list seats – in this case three. But they had won only four of the nine constituency seats.

There is an interesting comparator here to 2011 in Glasgow, where the SNP won “only” five constituency seats, while Labour won four. When it came to splitting up the list seats, the SNP took two while Labour took three, with the Tories and Greens getting one each.

The lesson from this must be, the more constituency seats you win, the fewer list seats you will win – something that seems to kick in by the time you get to winning two third – three quarters of the constituency seats.

It can of course be argued that this is what the electoral system we have is supposed to do – to give us a Parliament which reflects the overall vote, unlike the Westminster constituency-based system, in which it is “to the victor the spoils”, which produces an outcome where with 37% of the vote you can form a majority government. In Scotland in contrast, with 46.5% in the constituency vote, you won’t be forming a majority government. But as someone who has argued for an electoral system in which the outcome is proportional to votes cast, to be critical of this seems very deceitful.

But Ponsonby’s claim is stronger than that. His claim is that “the fall in the nationalist List vote cost the party List seats and ultimately a majority”.

It does have to be admitted that #BothVotesSNP did not hold up. In the constituency section nationally they won 46.5% of the vote, but on the list vote they won only 41.7%, so there was ‘leakage’ between constituency and list votes. But how much did this matter? Specifically, is Ponsonby correct when he argues “the fall in the nationalist List vote cost the party List seats and ultimately a majority”? In fact, the following figures show the fallacy in this claim.

This was how the allocation of list seats in Glasgow played out – the winning party as each seat is allocated is shown in red.

Party

List vote

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

SNP

111101

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

Labour

59151

59151

29575.5

19717

19717

19717

14787.75

11830.2

11830.2

11830.2

9858.5

Con

29533

29533

29533

29533

14766.5

14766.5

14766.5

14766.5

9844.333

9844.333

9844.333

Green

23998

23998

23998

23998

23998

11999

11999

11999

11999

7999.333

7999.333

LD

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

 

Regions only have 7 list seats, but I have developed this to the (fictitious) 10th seat to show just how difficult it is for a party to win list seats in our electoral system, when they have cleaned up in the constituencies. With their regional list vote – more than Labour and Tory combined – there would have had to be 10 list seats in Glasgow before the SNP, even with that size of list vote, would have taken a list seat. The reason for this is that they won all 9 constituencies in the Glasgow Region, so, with the voting system, their vote, from round 1, was divided by 10 (9 constituencies +1).

But more importantly for Ponsonby’s argument, the 7th seat was won with a (modified) Conservative vote of 14766.5 (their list vote too being divided by the number of seats won +1). The SNP vote is 11110.1 (their actual list vote divided by 10 – 9 constituencies + 1). Thus, for the SNP to have won even the last regional list seat in Glasgow, they would have had to have achieved a list vote of 36,564 greater than it actually was (the Conservative modified list vote 14766.5 minus the SNP modified list vote 11110.1 times 10 to allow for the 9 constituency seats already won). Thus, their actual list vote would have had to be more than 147,665 to beat the Conservatives to the seventh seat. But their constituency vote was 128,443, so even if all their constituency voters had voted SNP in the list, they would still have been 19,222 short by the 7th round. To sustain Ponsonby’s #BothVotesSNP argument, therefore, the SNP vote would have to have been still higher in the constituencies than it actually was.

In West of Scotland, the final list seat was taken by the Conservatives with a modified list vote of 17,822. In that region the SNP won 8 of the 10 seats. Thus the SNP list vote would have had to be more than 9 times (8+1) the Conservative modified list vote for the 7th seat – 160,398. In fact, the SNP list vote was only 135,827. But as the combined constituency vote was 148,660 it is clear not all their constituency vote followed the #BothVotesSNP advice. However, to win even just that 7th seat, the SNP vote would have had to be 160,398, and the question can be posed in West of Scotland, just like Glasgow, where were these votes going to come from, as what was needed was more than the constituency vote?

Ponsonby’s contention is that it was “tactical voting groupies” urging tactical voting on the SNP voter who caused the SNP to fail to do better than the list, which they would have done had the #BothVotesSNP advice been followed. Taking both these regions as examples, were Ponsonby’s argument true, then the SNP constituency vote would have had to be higher than it was in both cases. To have picked up even the last regional list seat, the SNP would have needed to increase their vote by almost 15% in Glasgow and almost 8% in West of Scotland.

There are therefore two reasons why the SNP lost their majority in May

  1. The electoral system worked as it was designed to do, to balance up in the list system the excesses of the “winner takes all” constituency section in order to give a more proportional outcome. If we average out constituency and list votes, the SNP took 44.1% of the vote and won 48.8% of the seats. The system did its job.
  2. The SNP did not win enough votes to overcome the electoral system. As we show above, in Glasgow and West of Scotland regions, even if #BothVotesSNP had been adhered to, they would still have failed to win even the 7th (and last) regional seat.

Thus rather than continuing to fight a dispute that they have not, and cannot, win, perhaps luminaries such as Stewart Campbell, GA Ponsonby, Peter Bell and James Kelly would do better to use their undoubted skills, reputation and reach to support the development of a wider independence movement. However, as we shall explore in part 2, this seems unlikely.

 

Budgets and discretionary budgets

Kevin Hague in his blog (http://chokkablog.blogspot.co.uk/) suggests that the Scottish budget next year is slightly – only “slightly” – above where it was, in real terms in 2009/10 and 2010/11 before austerity really began to bite, so all this guff about Westminster austerity is just being put about by Nats. Here is his diagram to prove it

Facts as they say, are “chiels that winna’ ding”, and I have had to read Hague’s blog a couple of times to work out how he managed this, particularly when McLaren and Armstrong found just a couple of years ago (see http://fiscalaffairsscotland.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Long-term-Scottish-budget-projections.pdf) that, as I wrote in my letter in today’s Herald – http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/letters/15009794.Letters__Making_the_best_of_a_bad_job_when_the_block_grant_is_cut/ – in reply to Councillor Alex Gallagher

“starting from 2009-10 to 2018-19, there will be an overall cash terms cut to the Scottish budget of just over -4 per cent and a real terms cut of almost -20 per cent.

Thus, by April 2019 the Scottish block grant can be expected to be, in real terms, one-fifth less than it was at the beginning of this decade.”

Now there are a lot of things that one can say about John McLaren and Jo Armstrong, but hardly that they are a pair of Nats. While I don’t always agree with their conclusions, I would not challenge their expertise as researchers. However, in this case, they and Hague are totally at odds. How has Hague done this?

Then I found this little nugget

“The second step they take is to bury this Total Budget information deep in an Appendix on page 169 of the report. They use the up-front summary tables to instead focus on a few sub-totals that exclude things like Annually Managed Expenditure (AME) which, for example, pays for NHS and teachers’ pensions”

The government’s own definition of this is (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-understand-public-sector-spending/how-to-understand-public-sector-spending)

“Total government spending

The total amount that the government spends is also known as Total Managed Expenditure (TME). This is split up in to:

  • departmental budgets – the amount that government departments have been allocated to spend; this is known as Departmental Expenditure Limits, or DEL.
  • money spent in areas outside budgetary control – this is all spending that is not controlled by a government department and includes welfare, pensions and things such as debt interest payments.; this known as Annually Managed Expenditure, or AME.”

The continue with regard to AME as follows

“Annually managed expenditure (AME)

Annually managed expenditure, or AME, is more difficult to explain or control as it is spent on programmes which are demand-led – such as welfare, tax credits or public sector pensions.

It is spent on items that may be unpredictable or not easily controlled by departments, and are relatively large in comparison to other government departments.”

Some points from this:

  1. First, contrary to Hague’s specific claim, AME is not spent on hospitals – in fact the document I refer to specifically includes hospitals under Departmental Expenditure Limits (this in paragraph 3, thus “Things that departmental budgets can be spent on include the running of the services that they oversee such as schools or hospital, and the everyday cost of resources such as staff).
  2. Secondly a great deal of AME for the Scottish government is basically just acting as a delivery person (I might have said “boy”, but that would be sexist?). For instance, I am the recipient of a teachers’ pension, but as I paid my contributions to the Westminster government, the liability is theirs, and while the payment might be made by the SPPA in Galashiels, it is doing no more than administering the obligations of the UK government. So, by excluding AME – which for instance will rise because the number of retired teachers rises (just one example for the avoidance of doubt – as the document referred to says, they are “demand led”) – allows a focus on the discretionary budget. AME rising reflects no credit on either the Westminster or Holyrood governments – they are demand led!

Or at least that is the polite version. For Hague to have said, as he did, that “They [the Scottish Government] use the up-front summary tables to instead focus on a few sub-totals that exclude things like Annually Managed Expenditure (AME) which, for example, pays for NHS and teachers’ pensions”. Those “few sub-totals” are in fact those areas of the Scottish budget on which the Scottish Government can in fact make their own decisions – AME is simply passing on money for and on behalf of Westminster. One, I think might have legitimately expected someone of Hague’s experience, not to say expertise, in such matters to have known this? Or perhaps he hopes that we don’t?

In short Hague’s graph is not only of little assistance to anyone wanting to understand the discretionary budget available to the Scottish Government, it is actually misleading, directing our attention to total quantum of spending, where not all of it is in the control of the Scottish Government. But, as always, Hague’s fan club piles in and laps this up totally uncritically (which is quite ironic as he often argues this is an indy-minded vice – one of them even refers to him as a god), which in turn will no doubt be repeated and might one day even become “the truth”, when in fact it’s not even an over-simplification – it’s just a lie.

Just who has the problem?

This concerns the most recent episode in the sequence of events since Craig Dalzell’s “Beyond GERS” (http://allofusfirst.org/tasks/render/file/?fileID=87DEEC95-C459-02D4-0248DDE75B7ADDB9). This paper, almost inevitably, drew the attention of “economic blogger” Kevin Hague (http://chokkablog.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/data-errors-in-beyond-gers.html). Dalzell responds to this in a piece published by Wings (http://wingsoverscotland.com/out-of-the-cave/) which is responded to by “blogger Neil Lovatt” (https://rwbblog.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/beyond-gers-goes-beyond-truth.html), and it is this which I am responding to. Thrown into the middle of it all is a highly critical reference to Dalzell in David Torrance’s SNP BAD column in the Herald on 21st November 2016 (http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14917110.David_Torrance__While_skilful_at_big_picture_stuff__the_SNP_is_still_pretty_weak_on_boring_old_detail/) which is where the “blogger” references come from. In passing this is a typical Torrancism, not to let on who his “authorities” are. Hague, while he claims not to be a Unionist – rather a seeker after the truth – is persistently critical of anything that comes out in favour of independence, while Lovatt is on the advisory board of Scotland in Union. Its rather like the Dimbleby forgetting to tell us on QT when it came from Stirling on 17th November, that Merryn Somerset-Webb was not just the Executive Editor of Money Week, but, like Lovatt, on the advisory board of Scotland in Union.

Below I have reproduced Lovatt’s article. Dalzell’s comments are in red, Lovatt’s in black, and my comments on Lovatt are in green, but I will try to summarise my differences with Lovatt here to save you the pain of going through it all.

The issue is who is responsible for paying Scottish pensioners after independence? My own view on this is basically that enumerated by Steve Webb during his appearance at the Scottish Grand Committee in 2013, as reported at the time in that Nationalist rag the Scotsman (http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/uk-mp-state-pensions-would-be-paid-after-yes-vote-1-3400799)

“State pensions would still paid after independence a UK minister has told MPs despite concerns raised by the Better Together campaign. Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee Lib Dem pensions minister Steve Webb said that anybody who had paid UK national insurance would be entitled to their state pension whatever the outcome of the referendum. He said: “Citizenship is irrelevant. It is what you have put into the UK National Insurance system prior to separation, answer 35 years, that builds up to a continued UK pension under continuing UK rules, the question is who is paying for it, but they are entitled to that money.”

Following this line of thinking, means that immediately post-independence pensions in Scotland would be paid by the UK govt, or only funded by them, the actual payment being made by the Scottish govt since the White Paper suggested that pensions made in Scotland would be more generous (eg if there was a higher rate in Scotland, then the payment to a pensioner would be part funded from the Westminster government + the Scottish “top up”).

Gradually of course this would change as people become of pensionable age who have spent some portion of their working lives in an independent Scotland, which would have received contributions from them, and thus created a liability for their pension to be paid in proportion by the UK and Scottish governments. In due course all payments would be paid by Scotland.

Lovatt is attempting to rubbish this in several ways

  1. The key problem is that he creates a contemporaneous link between who is entitled to a pension and who pays the pension, so that he can argue that English tax payers would be seriously pissed off about having to pay the pensions of people living in Scotland, some of whom (like me) voted for our independence and continue to leach off of them (as they would see it). But the reason for this is the manner in which the UK pension system has always worked – it has always been pay as you go – that contributions paid today are used to pay pensions today. Someone in receipt of their pension today is entitled because of the contributions they made in employment before they reached pensionable age. For instance, at one point I was making my contributions to my mum and dad’s pension. Now my kids will be making their contribution to my pension. What Lovatt plays on is that after independence, Scottish pensioners who have got their 35 years in, and have a claim against the Westminster government (as stated by Steve Webb) would be getting paid by tax payers in rUK. What he fails to pay any attention to (accidentally or otherwise) is that these Scottish pensioners have earned that entitlement through making their contributions to the UK NI system as required by the laws in place at the time. Of course that law could be changed, but it is very difficult to see how that could be done retrospectively. The issue then is not who pays, but who holds the liability and thus must pay.
  2. He muddies the water by treating funding paid by the rUK govt to pay Scottish pensioners their UK pensions by suggesting that rUK would never pay Scotland to pay its pensioners. But this would only be the Scottish govt acting as an agent – taking a very large payment and paying this to pensioners in Scotland for and on behalf of …. It would not be a payment for the Scottish Government – it would only be doing the delivery. What is fundamentally important is the liability for rUK to those pensioners, though I have no doubt the Daily Mail would make much of it, leaving out much that is important.
  3. Remarkably but conveniently from his point of view, Lovatt suggests “Pensioners will be designated as an rUK pensioner or an iScottish pensioner at the point of independence based on the residence at that time”, but of course the problem here is, to take a specific example, that if Sir Nick McPherson – former PS at the Treasury – decides to spend his retirement up here at the family but an’ ben – having been a Whitehall mandarin all these years – under this rule, he would get a Scottish pension. Indeed, would there not arguably be a motivation for an rUK to pack as many pensioners off to Scotland as they possibly could just before independence?
  4. Of course, the UK could change the law so that Scottish pensioners won’t get their state pension. But, how could that be done without roping in pensioners who live outside of the UK, but not in Scotland (eg in in Alicante, but not Airdrie) is not explained, unless of course a UK pensioner could go off anywhere in the world, just not Scotland. Moreover, Lovatt gets himself in a bit of a tangle, trying to avoid this one, when he says elsewhere that an rUK pensioner could come to Scotland and their pension would follow. This of course creates an image of Scots moving down to somewhere in rUK just prior to independence, securing their pension and then moving back up. What a tangled web they weave ………………….
  5. It is always difficult to argue with commentators such as this (Hague too is a good example of the genre) because Lovatt starts from the presumption that he must be right. For instance, we are told early on that there will be a “separate debt agreement” with Scotland. This is set out in relation to Dalzell’s claim that in international law (and he is only repeating what is in the UK’s govt legal advice for the 2014 referendum) that as a continuator state the UK gets all the assets, but also all the debts. But none of that matters to Lovatt – there WILL be a separate debt agreement. Scotland WILL accept its share of the UK’s debt, even if the UK claims continuator status. The claims of the Westminster government pass by pretty much without comment, when the claims of supporters of independence are shown to be wrong (to his satisfaction at least) or are comprehensively rubbished by association with their author. Dalzell apparently clearly knows nothing at all about pensions while Lovatt has been a pensions adviser! Moreover, that “agreement” (his word) will be the outcome of negotiation between Scotland and rUK, whenever these negotiations take place, and Lovatt seems to know the outcome already. Some guy! I am reminded here of some advice that Professor Einar Thorsrud, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einar_Thorsrud) who was a Norwegian psychologist at their Institute of Psychology gave me when I had the privilege of meeting him when I was a very new postgraduate student at Glagow University. He advised me that if you go out looking for something you are very likely to find it. In other words, we need to have open minds and be guided by, or follow, the data. This is not a practice of such as Hague or Lovatt, who don’t even go out looking for something – they start from it and work their way back.

    One last point. You will notice that Lovatt first refers to a point 4. Therefore, Dalzell has points 1-3 in his Wings article. Hague remarkably perhaps, has nothing to say about them, though he had much to say in his first piece. Can we assume therefore that Hague agrees that the data sources used by Dalzell were appropriate (it’s a bit much complaining about not using a data set which at the time of writing Beyond GERS had not yet been published); that there would not be cuts to the money spent in Scotland on defence; and that there would not need to be rises in income tax, or at least only in income tax, and that instead we could not have a more effective tax system? It would be nice to think so, but probably not.

The red bits are Dalzell’s originals as used by Hague, while the green bits are mine.

Beyond GERS goes Beyond Truth

Craig Dazell has a problem. 

Whilst the author of Beyond GERS could plead ignorance of the facts whilst he wrote his badly researched essay he can’t do so now. He’s openly admitted that he’s read the critique by myself and Kevin Hague. 

So what was his response? Did he take on the criticism and amend his conclusions or reframe his perspective in light of the corrections? No, of course not, this is a post-truth author. He just doubled down on his own flawed conclusions and believed that simply typing out the same points, whilst throwing in a few strawmen will justify his errors. 

But he has a problem. In doing so he’s lost any ability to claim ignorance and moved firmly into the realms of deception. 

His response to the blogs falls into a few points two of which are largely aimed at my critique on debt and pensions (the two areas I have professional qualifications in and have worked with for 20 years) I’ll deal with both in detail here:

4. We’d Be Defaulting on the UK’s Debt

Oh dear. This isnt a good start. Had Craig actually bothered to read the point being made he would know that the position is that if there is any defaulting it would be an independent Scotland defaulting to its debt agreement with rUK. 

Actually if you read the paper, Dalzell is arguing much the same point as you – we don’t have a debt to default on. The debt belongs to the UK

No one disputes that rUK would be guaranteeing the current UK’s debt, however post-truth authors continue to ignore the fact that at the same time as the UK guaranteed its debt it also stated that a separate debt deal between an independent Scotland and rUK would be set up on independence. Therefore there is no question of an independent Scotland being able to default on the UK’s debt, missing this sort of detail is just typical of Dazell’s shoddy kind of attention to detail. 

Quite a laugh when its you who misunderstood what Dalzell was arguing. Or since I have more respect for you than that, chose to misrepresent him for your own reasons.

The stated objective of the Westminster government in the 2014 campaign was to have the rUK recognised as the “continuing” or, at least, the “successor” state to the United Kingdom (the difference is largely semantic. In the former, the UK would continue unchanged in law but with reduced territory and perhaps a change of name. In the latter, the UK would strictly cease to exist but rUK would inherit all of the rights and obligations of the former state) and for Scotland to be recognised as a “new” state (The link prior went so far as to claim that the 1707 Treaty of Union “extinguished” the country of Scotland as a legal entity despite the UK describing itself to the UN 2007 as being composed of “two countries [Scotland and England], one principality [Wales] and a province [Northern Ireland]”). 

Here Dazell get’s confused between a state and a country. You would hope that this basic sort of point would be apparent to him. 

Really? Try this http://www.infoplease.com/world/statistics/state-country-nation.html and you will find “Country and State are synonymous terms that both apply to self-governing political entities. A nation, however, is a group of people who share the same culture but do not have sovereignty. Oh dearie me! In any case, it’s hardly an answer to his point, though is it? In fact the UK shot itself in the foot (and several other places) with their International Law paper published in 2013, where Profs Crawford and Boyle work through – as Dalzell suggests in the next part of his article – suggest that the most recent instance of a state breaking up was the USSR/ CIS where Russia took all the assets (including the nuclear weapons as the international community might have been frightened having them, but not as frightened as if some of the other states had taken their share) but also all the liabilities. You might remember Michael Moore whining, on the day the paper was published that he hoped “Scotland would do the right thing” and take its share of debt.

This state of affairs would carry with it significant advantages for rUK – notably, it would lessen any serious challenge towards their holding the UK’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council which was the case when Russia became the successor to the USSR – but carries with it many obligations also. The historical precedents are clearly laid out and extensively referenced in my paper Claiming Scotland’s Assets but readers should also consider G.F. Treverton’s book on the subject Dividing Divided States.

Essentially, where one country successfully claims “continuing” or “successor” status then it accepts that all of the mobile debts and assets of the former state belong solely to it (non-mobile assets like mineral rights, military bases and public buildings – including public companies and any mobile assets deemed essential to their running – are almost always split geographically). This means that a “continuing” rUK owns all of the UK’s debt in its own name. Scotland can no more default on them than can a former lodger default on your mortgage.
Absolutely. No one (mentioned here) is arguing otherwise. Dazell has set up a rather obvious strawman to deliberately avoid the point being made largely because he cant answer it. The UK has stated clearly that an independent Scotland shall have a separate debt agreement with rUK. This isn’t something that is optional unless Dazell wants to explain how it would be possible for an Act of Independence to pass through Westminster without a debt agreement as part of it. Why would rUK MPs give Scotland a free pass on debt that it has helped to build up over 300 years? 

Because when a state divides then part of it may claim all the assets but they get the debts as well. The last 300 years are less important than going forward. In any event, whatever passes through WM will be the outcome of an agreement between Scottish and rUK negotiators. Your foresight is remarkable. Am I saying this is not what will happen? No, I am not. But I do wonder at your certainty that it is pretty much inevitable.

You make several mistakes of your own here on top of that. Dalzell has set out the position in international law, but you simply sweep that to one side. Does international law not matter? You sound kind of like Fox or Davies when they argue that “of course” the EU will continue to allow the UK access to the single market even if the UK does not allow that pesky free movement of people. In short you talk as if the UK has a free hand when the reality is that it does not, as it is subject to international agreements and precedent the same as any other state.

Secondly, that we would have a separate debt agreement was not the position of the UK govt all the way through the last referendum. Their initial position was that the UK would be the “continuator state” (to use Crawford and Boyle’s terminology). Then when they realised this would land them with all the debt, they shifted to a position where liabilities and assets would be shared out (which I think is where you are now). But of course, they could not even stick to that position, as, for instance, Hammond told us we could not “cherry pick” defence assets. Then we were told that institutions such as the BBC were core to the UK state and could not be shared. I think it unlikely that we would want the BBC, but the fact is that it has an asset value – for instance I think there would be a quite a few noughts at the end of a valuation of their back catalogue. How many times will Fawlty Towers, for instance, be repeated in how many countries. Just one programme! In there will be the question of who funds the pensions, for there is no doubt that anyone who attains pensionable age before independence has a claim on a UK state pension, just as folk like me who spent their career in the public sector have an ongoing claim to their occupational pension. How those liabilities and assets would be shared out, I have no idea (nor does anyone else). But as pointed out by Craig Dalzell, given the value of much of the UK’s assets (other than the non-mobile ones), we might decide it’s better that the UK keeps all the assets, but also the liabilities.

In other words, Mr Lovatt, the certainty of your critique of Dalzell at this point carries about much weight as the certainty of the Brexiteers.

One could argue this case, but it’s not credible and certainly isn’t credible for a group claiming to take a realistic approach to independence to argue it. 

Why because you say so?

Now, if the side negotiating on behalf of the UK wishes to make the case that Scotland should take on a share of debts, perhaps by offering a share of assets to their value, then this is something that Scotland could consider, accept or refuse. There is a very good case to be made that Scotland doesn’t actually need or want a population share of the UK’s mobile assets. 

Another attempt at a strawman on debt. The UK has stated that an independent Scotland would get a geographic share of UK assets (that’s all the land and natural resources in Scotland) and a population share of our financial assets (gold and FX reserves) – which is about £2-3bn on a net liability basis, which I’ve already corrected Dazell on. Alongside this we get a population share of debt. That’s about £130 billion of debt. 

As above, that is the UK position. It is not holy writ or anything like that. Your certainty is admirable but without foundation.

This isn’t optional. This isn’t something that a proto-independent Scottish government could refuse and then expect the Act of independence to pass through the UK Parliament. 

Oh come on – now you are only being ridiculous. There will at some point be an Act to put into effect whatever May et al can secure from the EU. What if they say “No. we want xyz instead”. Do you think the EU is going to fold and say “Ok then Westminster”. As Harold Wilson once said “Politics is the art of the possible”.

We may need a few £billion worth of military equipment – assuming we can’t buy newer or more appropriate equipment elsewhere. We may need a couple of £billion (those stalwart supporters of independence, Scotland in Union, estimated not more than £1 billion) to set up essential government departments currently lacking – assuming we can’t borrow the money at better rates on the open market. We may need a couple tens of £billions to support our new currency and set up the investment banks we’ll need to start rebuilding our economy. 
Where do these ‘tens of billions’ come to support our new currency? Does Dazell really believe that a new Scottish state could tap the debt market to borrow in debt denominated in the new currency to defend that new currency! He really does not understand how markets work. 

The main issue for lenders is that they want comfort that they will get their money back, along with their interest. I accept that as a new state there might be some premium to be paid on independence. But a new state with no debt must be an attractive option.


After that, it really does start to become a stretch to consider what other assets we would actually need which would justify accepting over £130 billion worth of debt. Answers on a postcard on that one please.

The assets we would need would be the geographic assets of Scotland (say the north sea for instance), these are current UK assets. Dazell (quite deliberately) completely fails to understand this point. Once again on independence Scotland gets the physical and natural assets of Scotland and a population share of the financial assets and liabilities.

The international law of the sea makes quite clear that the great bulk of the oil – certainly no less than 90% belongs to Scotland. Your point, other than indicating the current reality, in the event of Scottish independence is totally fatuous. You could do worse than starting off with a read at this

Young or old

I have a good deal of time for Politics Scot. Tonight he tweeted this (https://twitter.com/PoliticsScot)

In this regard, he is doing little more than repeating a widely held point of view – that it was the older generation that lost us the last referendum and could cost us the next one. In terms of relative vote, it is hard to argue with that. The issue, though is less how we lost the last one, and more how we win the next one, and what I want to argue is that focusing on the group that did most to cost us the last referendum might be quite the wrong way of setting about it.

The highlighted figures in the table, show the degree of resistance among the over 55s of practically every party (other than the SNP of course) to voting Yes next time. Therefore, the argument goes, we should be focusing on convincing the over 55s to vote for Yes.

The widely held view is that to be young is to be liberal, but old is to be conservative- or to be young to support Yes, but old to vote No. These figures support that thesis.

However, American research reported here (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/09/the-politics-of-american-generations-how-age-affects-attitudes-and-voting-behavior/) suggests that while different age groups do have different political ideas, the young=liberal, old=conservative view does not always work. For instance, they show that those aged over 65 are pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

The classic quote on age and attitude is by François Guizot, who said, “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” But it has been shown by Alwin, Cohen and Newcomb in “Political Attitudes Over the Lifespan” (https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3a927Jder6IC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22political+attitudes+over+the+life+span%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=SnO9U63AF9DLsATrtYKgDA&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22political%20attitudes%20over%20the%20life%20span%22&f=false) that “through late childhood and early adolescence, attitudes are relatively malleable…with the potential for dramatic change possible in late adolescence or early adulthood. [B]ut greater stability sets in at some early point, and attitudes tend to be increasingly persistent as people age.” In other words, while Guizot may have been correct about ages between 20 and 30, the argument should not be extended further – at some point our political views become relatively fixed.

Ghitza and Gelman show in “The Great Society: Reagan’s Revolution and Generations of Presidential Voting” (http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/unpublished/cohort_voting_20140605.pdf) that there exist in the US different political generations, each shaped by political events during their formative years: New Deal Democrats, Eisenhower Republicans, Baby Boomers, Reagan Conservatives and Millennials.

Now if we apply these ideas to the next independence referendum it may give us cause to think that the widely held nostrum – well expressed by Politics Scot – that we need to get the older generation onboard – just might not be as true as we might think it to be.

First of all, if attitudes at some point during adulthood become relatively fixed – or demonstrate a greater stability – then it will be the older generations who will be harder to get to change their minds. But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, while this might not be for those in the earlier stages of 55+ age group, anyone who is 70 or older grew up in a world where the United Kingdom and Great Britain actually meant something. It was a world where to say that the sun never set on the British Empire was actually true. It was a country which had stood alone against Hitler and been one of the allies that had defeated him. As Maurice Smith put it in a recent Newsnet podcast, “people who have grown up watching John Mills’ movies”. (http://newsnet.scot/archive/podcast-two-years-indyref-13-weeks-brexit-next/). This was the crucible in which their ideas were formed, and the idea of bringing that United Kingdom to an end will often be relatively more difficult than for younger age groups who have lived through a period of pretty continuous decline.

So if they are not to be targeted then who? If we go back to the figures in the table, then we can see that to secure a majority can be achieved in either (or both) of two ways.

If, as is common for opinion polls, we rule out the undecideds, then a majority could be secured by getting at minimum 29 No voters to turn to yes, nearly 6%. Where would that 6% come from? If we rule out the over 55s as ‘too difficult’ then it has to be from younger age groups. There are 239 No voters aged less than 55, so 29 of them would be 12%, from any party but less likely to be Conservatives, where the balance between Yes and No is more marked than even for SNP voters voting Yes.

Moreover, particularly among the youngest age group – 16-34 (where ideas are more malleable!) – the balance for Yes is particularly pronounced (55% Yes to 32% No). If political ideas are influenced – among this younger, more malleable group – by their peers then perhaps it is most likely that converts would be secured here rather than among the elderly as Politics Scot suggests.

But there is another group we have ignored so far – those characterised as undecided. Typically, these are either excluded from the final result, or it is assumed that they will allocate themselves in the same proportions as those who have made their mind up already. There are 73 aged less than 55 in the undecided category. For this group to push Yes to a majority. To take the Yes vote (440) above the No vote (497) would require nearly 80% of this undecided group to come across, so it is at best difficult, and probably unlikely that even persuading younger undecideds to vote Yes is going to secure a Yes vote. More likely that some combination of securing currently undecided votes and converting No votes to Yes, particularly among young voters, will be the way forward.

Therefore, if the view that our opinions do not usually change significantly with age are correct, then the more productive approach to secure a Yes majority might be, counterintuitively, not to focus on the group which relatively cost us the last referendum – older voters whose opinions were formed in a rather different United Kingdom – but to work harder to secure the votes of existing No votes among younger voters whose opinions are more receptive to new ideas, whose conversion might be relatively easier.

Words Matter

I was going to write last night about how the draft Bill for a second referendum was being reported, but time ran out on me. This morning I noted that Wings over Scotland have written about the same thing, but rather more extensively (http://wingsoverscotland.com/and-twirling-always-twirling/).

I had been going to satisfy myself with the observation that the Herald was presenting the story in a sort of “she’s keeping the independence option open” kind of way, but giving prominence to the statements one might have expected from Ruth Davidson about focusing on the problems of Scotland, and by Kezia Dugdale that she was “shifting the goalposts” by “suggesting that securing ongoing membership of the single market, rather than retaining full benefits of EU membership, would be enough to convince her to call off a second independence referendum” (http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/14724618.Sturgeon_keeps_options_open_over_independence_despite_single_market_demands/).

However, that was not the way that it was reported in the Guardian, where the headline in Severin Carrell’s report told us pretty much all we needed to know about the approach. In contrast to the Herald – “options open” – in the Guardian independence was on the back burner – “Sturgeon shelves plan for quick second Scottish independence referendum” (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/06/nicola-sturgeon-shelves-quick-second-scottish-independence-referendum-bill).

The first couple of paragraphs tell their own story

“Nicola Sturgeon has shelved plans for a quick second referendum on Scottish independence after dire spending figures and a fall in public support for leaving the UK.

The first minister told Holyrood on Tuesday that her government only planned to issue a consultation on a draft referendum bill – a measure which falls short of tabling new legislation in this year’s programme for government.”

So instead of options open, according to the Guardian, Sturgeon is running away, because of the dreadful GERS figures, and – quite bafflingly – her appointment of Mike Russell (one of the most “combative figures” at Holyrood) as her Brexit minister. This remember is the same item of news – keeping the option on the table (despite encouragement to put it away) or running away.

As Wings points out, other newspapers had their own agendas, so the same item of news – remember – the independence referendum bill “has – in the space of a single 48-word sentence in a 4,600-word speech – been edged towards, backed away from, shelved, threatened, lined up, put on the back burner and consulted on”. Quite a remarkable set of interpretations for a single sentence. The problem of course is that none of them is entirely truthful, because the reality is that the next referendum is contingent on Brexit. In that sense the key decision-maker is not actually the First Minister, but the Prime Minister.

However, one would not get this impression from a reading of the UK press, as the above demonstrates quite fully. However, I want to focus on another example – David Torrance’s weekly SNP BAD article in the Herald headlined “Like Brown, Sturgeon risks letting the genie out of the bottle” (http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14723055.David_Torrance__Like_Brown__Sturgeon_risks_letting_the_genie_out_the_bottle/). Essentially Torrance attempts to develop an analogy with the time when Gordon Brown had just become PM, and with the polls in his favour, after some prevarication, decided against a snap election for his own personal mandate, opting instead to go the distance of that Parliament, and ending up losing to the Tory/ Lib Dem coalition in 2010. Torrance’s argument is that Sturgeon is doing much the same thing, prevaricating and by doing so may end up losing support, if the tide for independence is fully in just now.

Yet Torrance recognises that the call for a second referendum is contingent on triggering Article 50, when all the reasonable options for Scotland retaining meaningful links with the EU have been ruled out or shown not be possible. He writes “When Article 50 is triggered and it’s confirmed that Scotland isn’t going to stay in the EU (or the Single Market, the First Minister’s “red line” continues to shift) the SNP’s strategists will have to decide how they’re going to respond”, and indeed there is an argument there that needs to be respected. A response will be needed, but it wont necessarily be to trigger the next referendum.

In this regard, Torrance claims, “I don’t get the sense those in charge necessarily see Article 50 as a decision point, rather they’ll continue to busk it, waiting for something to come up. But the trouble with this is that “something” bad may emerge.”. But how likely – or unlikely – is “something” bad to emerge? It is perhaps one of those accidents of history that the day before Torrance’s piece came out, the “normally discreet Japan Gov has very publicly slapped UK for Brexit”, as Robert Peston tweeted the evening before. The Japanese PM and ambassador to London have both warned the British government that if Japanese companies – which employ between them 140,000 in the UK – cannot continue to make profits working from here, then they will leave. In short the likelihood of “something” bad emerging is by no means that farfetched.

However, the real killer for Torrance’s SNP BAD hypothesis, is that, as he recognises himself, indyref2 is contingent on Article 50 being triggered. When will that be? Immediately after the 23rd June, we might have expected it to be triggered, if not now then very shortly. Then it became the end of this year. Then early next year. Then the middle of next year. Some suggest it might not be till 2019!

And whose decision will it be? It won’t be one for the FM, as the Secretary of State made clear (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37276167) “”Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. The UK government is responsible for Scotland’s membership of the EU and for foreign affairs so obviously the UK government is going to take the lead in the negotiations in relation to our position in the EU. Asked if Ms Sturgeon could expect a “veto” over any position that emerges, Mr Mundell went on: “There isn’t going to be a veto for anyone in relation to the EU negotiations”. The decision, therefore, will be one for the PM.

Thus all Torrance’s talk of the Scottish Govt, letting the genie out of the bottle, is quite misplaced. If indyref2 is contingent on Brexit actually happening, then the person who has the first decision to take is Theresa May, and the indecision – and indeed lack of clarity – right now, is hers and her government’s.

But more than this, we would do well to wonder why Torrance, and those who share his opinions, are arguing for a vote they don’t want – indyref2 – which may bring an outcome they certainly do not want – independence. But their demand for indyref to happen now, before the full horrors of Brexit have had time to emerge – at the moment the Japanese have been uniquely clear, and even then we are talking about 140,000 jobs – is indicative of their thinking. If there is to be another referendum lets have it now, when the chances of a Yes vote are less. As John Curtice pointed out in his most recent blog, after an increase immediately after the 23rd June, support for independence has returned to around 46% (http://blog.whatscotlandthinks.org/2016/09/has-brexit-not-had-much-impact-on/), so let’s have it sooner rathe rather than later when Yes might win. My own view has always been that Brexit, of an by itself, no matter how much of a democratic outrage it might be, will not take us to independence. But the consequences of Brexit might very well do this.

When the possibility of another independence referendum is raised, there are two common retorts in the mainstream media. One is the Ruth Davidson approach, aping Johann Lamont during the last referendum, that there is a country to run. Remember “Scotland on pause”? Or to argue, let’s have it now. The former is a variant on the “once in a generation” argument, while the latter seeks to hurry it on, in the expectation that as time wears on, and the consequences of Brexit become more clear, the likelihood of a Yes vote increases. Both are attempts by Unionism to avoid the inevitable, or if not inevitable to hold it at a less than propitious time. We need to hold our nerve. Work remains to be done, as Robin McAlpine points out in “Determination” so that the independence offer is more convincing than last time. As Tommy Sheppard has said “every part of the that white paper [from the last referendum] is obviously going to have to be looked at and reviewed and dusted down and re-presented if and when we get to a next independence referendum” (http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/snp-s-tommy-sheppard-urges-review-of-independence-white-paper-1-4194104).

But more than that, the Brexit and the current political situation in the UK – in particular leaving the UK with the most reactionary and right wing Tory government for many years – causes the tide to flow in our favour. As Eric Joyce wrote recently in his blog, former No voters – and he instances in particular JK Rowling who he says may support the Union but “loathes” the Tories – “realise that what’s in their hearts has become a never-neverland they’ll never get to visit. Then they’ll re-imagine Scotland’s future and choose social democracy in an independent Scotland over Tory ascendancy.” (http://ericjoyce.co.uk/2016/09/jk-rowling-is-the-folk-who-will-move-scotland-from-no-to-yes/)

 

On the possibilities of a European Super League

The BBC have reported (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/37168955) a statement by Alexander Ceferin, President of the Slovenian FA, and a candidate for the Presidency of UEFA now that Platini has had to vacate that role, that

“Any move to form a breakaway super league involving Europe’s top sides would lead to “war” between the clubs and Uefa” and is “out of the question”.

He goes on

“My firm opinion is that some kind of closed super league with just a few clubs in, without the possibility for the others to enter, is out of the question. It will mean a kind of war between Uefa and the clubs. If they want more revenues we should work on it. It is possible. The Champions League is the best sports product in the world, for sure. But it doesn’t generate the most money. So we should include them [the clubs] more.”

The BBC treats this at face value – if Ceferin is elected, and he has 20 nominations from member Associations, so at getting on for half of the 54 who is to say he won’t be – then there would be no super league.

There are I think two faults in this confident forecast.

First while Ceferin is right in that it would be a direct challenge to the authority of UEFA, a breakaway would lead to a war. But before saying it is “out of the question” we might do well to consider which side might win, and why. As Ceferin says in the second half of the quote “If they want more revenues” – do they ever – then the biggest clubs need to think about how best they might achieve this, and I am sure they are giving that a lot of thought. A super league would after all allow for higher ticket prices. There would be more opportunity for corporate entertainment, again at higher prices than they enjoy just now. However, the major variable, and the one that everyone pays primary attention to, is television. Right now, the king of the hill in that regard is the English Premiership. As the BBC report says,

“The Premier League’s new £9bn TV deal is one of the main reasons why European sides are so keen to see change.”

However, the Premiership has an Achilles heel. There are clubs in the Premiership which could easily be described as “global brands”, including Manchester United and Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea. Probably Tottenham and Liverpool as well, with West Ham and Everton as the next in line? Leicester in the future, perhaps, but one swallow does not …… etc. These are clubs for whom pay to view will always be interested, so the match between Arsenal and Liverpool on the first Sunday of the Premiership was always going to be attractive to TV. Perhaps Chelsea and West Ham as well, the following Monday. But Bournemouth and Manchester United, surely less so. And, unless you are from the North East of England, it’s unlikely that Sunderland and Middlesbrough was particularly enticing.

We can go through the season like this – games between any of the eight clubs identified as “global brands” will always be attractive to pay to view. Less attractive, but still with some pulling power, are games between those eight and the others. However, how often does television get landed with games between the other twelve clubs, which will have little attraction for them?

So far, however, TV has been able to do little about this. But imagine a European Super League, over an entire season. Let’s suppose it features the following eighteen clubs – Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletico Madrid, Valencia, Milan, Juventus, Napoli Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Paris St Germain, Marseilles, Lyon. There is lots of scope to argue about whether these would be THE 18 clubs – for instance would there really be six clubs from England? But the point to be taken from that is that it is difficult to perm any two of these clubs without coming up with a game that TV would not value highly. There would be no “duff” weekends with such as Burnley playing West Brom. There would not only not be a duff weekend, but rather the difficulty for any TV station would be how to schedule all of the games of this league every weekend. If the Premiership contract is worth £9 billion, with “makeweight” matches many weekends, what value would the TV contract be for a league with no “less attractive” matches?

We are therefore looking at a TV deal which is some multiple of 9 billion. This would clearly be attractive for the non-English clubs who are currently in deals worth less than this. But if the English clubs were offered even more TV money than they get just now would that not be attractive to them? Could UEFA ever organize something like this? I rather suspect not, unless they could find a way to keep the “lesser” clubs happy.

Thus the weakness of the Premiership is that while it has its share of “superstars”, not all of its clubs – worthy as they all are – can be described in this way. A move away for the “superstars” has to be a possibility, just as the Premiership cut itself loose from the Football League when they realised they could do better for themselves by moving across to the FA which has singularly been incapable of controlling them. Just as the Football League was cast adrift, this would mean casting the “extras” in the Premiership adrift – such as Bournemouth, Southampton, West Brom, Sunderland etc.

Where would TV find the money though? It’s not like it’s a bottomless pit and sooner or later the armchair footie fan is going to say “enough”. But, if Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool are no longer in the Premiership then what value does its TV contract have? Certainly much less than it is now. Moreover, it is likely that the deal would be done not by a single TV company in the way of Sky with the Premiership, but by a consortium of pay TV companies including Sky, BT, Canal + etc.

But what about the players? One of the consequences of a player with any of the clubs in a Super League without UEFA endorsement would be that they could no longer play for their national sides. I am not suggesting that players are not patriotic, but imagine the conversation “Leo, we want you to sign a new contract. This will pay you 25% more than we pay you now, but you won’t be able to play in the World Cup or Copa America”. Sorry, 25% more dosh and getting a rest every summer! What’s not to like. Who knows, he might even pay his taxes?

So the war, is eminently possible, and without their superstar clubs and most of the best players, how long could UEFA hold out? How long – as with the Kerry Packer Cricket Circus forty years ago – could they hold out? This leads to the second point, that we need to read Ceferin’s statement very carefully, and in particular when he says “My firm opinion is that some kind of closed super league with just a few clubs in, without the possibility for the others to enter, is out of the question”. The key word here is “closed”. I have set out 18 hypothetical member clubs. Ceferin’s problem seems to be that the lack of a possibility for others to move on up to that league. For instance, there will certainly be clubs with the ambition who are not in that list – Espanyol, Villareal, Seville, Werder Bremen, etc Then there are the biggest clubs from the smaller countries – Porto, Ajax, not to mention Celtic.

If we put this construction on Ceferin’s statement, and add to that the biggest clubs recently putting Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Gianni Agnelli up to call for the creation of a super-league (and you don’t put guys like that in to argue for you if you don’t really mean it) then perhaps the principle has already been conceded and the only issue is whether the League would be closed or whether there would be some form of promotion and relegation. Either way, the future may not be all that far off.

 

 


 

Known unknowns, known knowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns

The categorisation in the title- or at least part of it – is often attributed to Donald Rumsfeld when he was American Secretary of State for Defence (though he certainly was not the first to use it). The full quote goes

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult one”

Of most concern to Rumsfeld therefore were unknown unknowns, which the British Columbia Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining in 1979 distinguished from known unknowns as follows

“Known unknowns result from phenomena which are recognized, but poorly understood.”

So for instance, we don’t fully understand weather – will threatening clouds just pass over, or will it rain before I get back- so if I go out for a walk I might take an umbrella as “insurance”.

“On the other hand, unknown unknowns are phenomena which cannot be expected because there has been no prior experience or theoretical basis for expecting the phenomena.”

Many of the demands for information made by Better Together during the last referendum could often be categorised in either of these ways. Questions would continuously be posed so that if there was no answer then they could say “see, they don’t know” (the known unknown, or in some cases the unknown unknown). Or if there was an answer to use it as a platform to pose further questions. One instance of that strategy was the BBC’s well-worn style “warning about …….”, linked to independence. Craig Murray helpfully even provides an illustrative list (https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2013/04/bbc-the-new-hammer-of-the-scots/), though as Murray points out, these are only those where both “independence” and “warning” both appear in the same title.

  • ‘Scottish independence: Pension shortfall warning’
  • ‘Scottish independence: Warning over “weakened military”‘
  • ‘Scottish independence: “Havoc” warning from pensions firm’
  • ‘Scottish independence: Luxembourg warns against “going separate ways”‘
  • ‘Scottish independence: Barroso warning on EU membership’
  • ‘Scottish independence: Michael Moore issues warning over vote question’
  • ‘Scottish independence: “Border checks” warning from home secretary’

An interesting example is the last of these, “border checks”, since the Home Secretary in 2014 has now become our Prime Minister. The contemporary BBC report says that (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-17505302)

  1. “Ms May claimed independence could lead to mass immigration problems.” – quite why this was the case was never explained. Perhaps if independence had been such a disaster there would have been widespread hunger so that Scots were fighting to get out? If the reaction of rUK in these circumstances was to erect border posts to keep starving people out, then even on the basis of that rather unlikely hypothetical, should we not be looking to become independent?
  2. “Afterwards, the home secretary said she envisaged “some sort of border check” if Scotland joined the European Schengen common travel area” – but at the very least there was no certainty that Scotland would have joined Schengen – indeed Better Together would tell us often as they could that we would not be able to join the EU for many years. In any event, how would the EU have benefited from forcing Scotland – which has no direct border with any country other than England – to join Schengen. A more intelligent proposition would have been that Scotland, like the Republic of Ireland, would have joined the Common Travel Area, which has operated to the satisfaction of most since 1922 as the Home Office were disinclined to patrol the porous and meandering border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Just why Scotland would be treated differently was never made clear – a known unknown.
  3. “Ms May called for clarity on the issue as part of the independence debate.” – or put another way, May was calling on Yes to get the European Commission to opine on whether they would insist on Scotland being forced to join Schengen, even though the Commission would only reply if such a request came from the government of a member state, which in this case was the government at Westminster, of which May was a member. And there is a parallel here with Tom Peterkin this morning (http://www.scotsman.com/news/snp-seeks-a-way-to-avoid-border-checkpoints-after-independence-1-4208480) and May two years ago, in that the onus in both is placed on Scotland. Peterkin’s report appears with the headline, that “SNP seeks a way to avoid border checkpoints after independence”, but even he is eventually driven by the facts to quote Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre and one of Sturgeon’s panel of EU advisers that all parties “would do whatever they can to avoid” a hard border

    In fact, clarity could have been provided in both cases if London had advised us just why the border between Scotland and England was so much more difficult than the border between the two parts of Ireland, that it would have to be managed much more rigorously. But that question has never been put. We know that London is anxious not even to be seen to do anything that might undermine the peace process in Northern Ireland, and making a “hard border” between the North and the Republic is the last thing they would want. Why, when illegal immigrants could just as easily get to Dublin, travel north to Belfast and thence into the UK, is Scotland different? Instead when in 2014 independence was put on the back foot on this matter the standard “scaremongering” response was made – when really it is London who should be answering the questions, particularly when on 24th June on Any Questions Chris Grayling (Secretary of State for Transport and leading Brexiteer) was quite certain – the day after the EU referendum – that the Common Travel Area would continue as before.

    Yet this has barely scraped the surface of the debate about Scottish independence. Only those who argue for Scottish independence are expected to fill in the gaps of the known unknown. Only we are expected to know the unknowable. Professor Patrick Dunleavy (LSE) said during the last referendum debate that the Scottish Government would need the forecasting ability of the “Delphic Oracle” to be able to answer the questions from Better Together (and their allies in the media). Such requirements do not apply to London, and it is not as if their position brooks no uncertainties, particularly since 23rd June and the vote for leaving the EU.

A more contemporary example appeared in the Herald in the last seven days. It was started by a reply to a letter by the doyen of Herald letter writing Iain AD Mann who had questioned why it was that Scotland was being singled out for special attention because of the deficit GERS suggests we are running (http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/letters/14682154.Readers__39__Opinion__Why_should_Scotland_be_the_only_nation_berated_for_debt_/). This drew the following response from Peter Wylie of 26 New Street Paisley, who variously appears to be a consulting actuary and to work in insurance and pensions (coincidentally 26 New Street Paisley is given as the address of the local Conservative Club).

Mr Wylie wrote (http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/letters/14686248.Readers__39__Opinion__It_is_the_Union_that_has_helped_so_many_Scots_to_achieve_greatness/)

IAIN AD Mann (Letters, August 15) seems to think that because the United Kingdom has borrowing of £1.62 trillion, an independent Scotland should be able to cover the shortfall of £9 billion in its revenues identified in the recent report by Government Expenditure and Revenue (Scotland) – GERS -– quite easily by government borrowing.

He does not seem to understand, first of all, that the amount of UK national debt has no relevance to the question of whether or not an independent Scotland would be able to cover a shortfall in revenues by borrowing.

The UK national debt is funded by the issue of government securities that are mainly bought by UK-based financial institutions such as insurance companies, pension funds and investment funds. In an independent Scotland there would almost no market within Scotland for government debt. The financial institutions that are based in Scotland, Standard Life for example, could not invest in the debt issued by a Scottish government because the bulk of their liabilities would still be in sterling because about 90 per cent of their customers are in England.

An independent Scottish government would have to try to sell its debt abroad. It is unlikely that debt expressed in a Scottish currency would be attractive to foreign investors but taking on the liability to repay borrowing in other currencies would be very risky.

If the Scottish currency fell against the currency in which the borrowing had been made, the cost of servicing the debt, which would be a lot higher than the cost at which the UK government can borrow because of the fact that an independent Scotland would have no track record in borrowing and, more importantly, repaying borrowing, would increase sharply and the deficit the debt was supposed to cover would get worse.

Mr Mann says “it is perfectly feasible that if Scotland had the normal borrowing powers of a self-governing nation we could cover negative variations between income and expenditure”. The probability is that attempting to do exactly this would have disastrous consequences for us all.

Peter Wylie,

26 New Street, Paisley.

I have highlighted the most contentious points, which I addressed in a reply to Wylie (see below). These are

  1. His claim that there would be no market for Scottish government debt, which is clearly a known unknown – not impossible, but clearly a “worst case analysis” without further evidence
  2. Why would Standard Life not invest in Scotland when they are a global brand which must deal in a great many currencies – not even a known unknown. Just wrong.
  3. Some countries do indeed sell their debt in the currency of other countries, and it is indeed risky, and can become expensive if currencies move against you. But that point depends crucially on his first two points being correct when one of them is just wrong and the other much less than certain.
  4. It is probably right to say that initially an independent Scotland might have to pay a premium by virtue of being the new kid on the block. But how much more? For how long? Or looked at another way, for how long will the UK be able to get by with interest rates as near zero as makes no odds?

There is the possibility that Mr Wylie is correct, but as an actuary I am pretty sure that he knows its not a probability and in any event is well within the territory of the “known unknown”.

My own reply to him appeared in the Herald a couple of days later (http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/letters/14692096.No_evidence_that_Scotland_would_be_unable_to_address_challenges_all_small_countries_face/) – you might recognise the analysis?

PETER Wylie (Letters, August 17) takes Iain AD Mann (Letters, August 15) to task for thinking that an independent Scotland could cover its £9 billion deficit “quite easily by government borrowing”. But in so doing he treats what really are “known unknowns” (to quote Donald Rumsfeld) – what we know we don’t know – as “known knowns” – what we know we know (or in Mr Wylie’s case, what we think we know).

One example is why Standard Life would not buy into Scottish government debt. Since it considers itself a global business, even if “90 percent of its customers are in England”, it must deal in a whole range of global currencies. Yet according to Mr Wylie they would be deterred from investing in Scottish debt for currency reasons. Surely if the return is reliable and competitive, then investors would be happy to invest? The issue is not the currency in which they are paid, but the reliability of return, and in this regard, for the UK, even with the fall in the value of the pound since June 24, and the prospect of Brexit is informative as the UK is still able to sell gilts to manage its debt.

How much Scottish debt would be owned domestically is certainly a “known unknown”, but how is it that other small countries – or even some large ones – which do not have a financial services sector on the same scale as the UK, get by? Or is Scotland uniquely disadvantaged in this regard?

His final “known unknown” is that the cost of servicing debt for an independent Scotland would be “a lot higher” than for the UK government. Leaving to one side what “a lot higher” actually means, and more importantly whether the UK will continue for much longer to be able to finance its debt at present rates of interest, the premium on Scottish debt would depend on the scale of deficit we face on independence. Let’s suppose that is not before 2020. What will the price of oil be then? What level of UK debt would Scotland actually have to take on? If “known unknowns” exist, then these are examples.

In short, Mr Wylie in sketching out his severe, if not apocalyptic, view of the future, really does ignore Mr Mann’s core point, that if arguments, such as Mr Wylie’s, are to be redeemed then they really do have to be obliged to present evidence why an independent Scotland would be unable to address the challenges that every other small country does. Certainly presenting “worst case analyses”, such as Mr Wylie’s, singularly fails to do this.

This form of challenge is, I would argue, more effective against the “scaremongering” response that seemed standard in Yes. To demand that they redeem their claim, and expose its own uncertainties is harder work, but has more substance than just asserting that it is scaremongering. A scaremonger is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as “a person who spreads stories that cause public fear”. The problem often with Better Together, and increasingly with the Unionist case is that these are stories which either lack evidence, and/ or are contrived or made up.

Just today Derek Bateman has written in his blog about, in effect the scaremongering of elements of the Scottish media, trying to suggest that attempts are being made by indy supporters to silence them. Among the arguments that Bateman uses to nail this are that when you consider

“James Foley, beheaded by jihadists. John Cantlie still held by ISIS two years on. US reporter Alison Parker shot dead live on air. Gadzhimurat Kamalov hit six times in a drive-by shooting in Moscow. Of the 27 journalists known to have been murdered so far this year, 37 per cent were related to politics, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

……

I knew an editor in Kashmir who published what rebels told him or he would die, a female reporter from Chile who had been forced not to tell the story of abductions under Pinochet and a Yugoslavian journalist who feared he could not work under threats from Serbs and Croats as the Balkan conflict got under way. (All encountered in the US in 1991).

I’ve had my notes examined and my camera crew’s film vetted by Israeli security, been delayed at a Romanian airport while my director’s passport was held up (for a bribe) and recorded secretly in China after being denied a journalist’s visa. I had to go up a stair into a room full of unsmiling men to ask ‘Sinn Fein’ permission to record voices on the street in West Belfast.

Believe me, working as a hack at Holyrood is a doddle.” (my emphasis). http://derekbateman.scot/2016/08/21/can-i-quote-you/ strongly recommended

It is worthwhile remembering this when the next one flounces off Twitter or closes their Facebook account. Torrance has had his shot (for a few days), Neil Oliver has told of vile cybernats who have hounded him off a Twitter account it appears he didn’t use that much (and which didn’t give him the evidence to support his claim). One wonders who might be next? But the important point is that faced with this bleating, what is needed is a critique and Bateman offers this in spades. In addition to the above Bateman offers a reasoned denunciation of such as Torrance and Daisley, and this is where we have to go. When a claim is made by Unionists then it has to be challenged with a reasoned argument, pointing to its errors, exaggerations and fictions rather than whine “scaremongering”. It is almost certainly true that creating uncertainty, doubt and worry is their aim, and that the charge of “scaremongering” is both accurate and legitimate. But beneath all that lurks a Unionist argument (of sorts) which can be critically appraised and potentially be shown to have little force, being at the limits of what is likely or even possible.

 


 

What we don’t know that they might know

Here’s a thought for you. We know there are known knowns (what we know we know) and known unknowns (what we know we don’t know). There are even unknown unknowns (what we don’t know, we don’t know) – which can often be the things that really trip us up.

But there is another possibility – the unknown known – what we don’t know but what is known somewhere else. Now before you turn away from this, consider its meaning in relation to the distribution of knowledge and information in the independence debate. Just how much does Westminster know that we don’t know that they know? For instance, we have to live and die on GERS, which we are told is “the best we have”, despite the constant critiques of such as Jim and Margaret Cuthbert. It is probably true that GERS is the best we have, but its methodological chapter makes clear just how creaky it is. For instance, it admits that the only identifiable public sector revenues for Scotland are local authority, plus some public sector corporations. Other taxes are allocated on a population basis – probably correct but hardly likely to be precise – and various costs attributed to Scotland at the whim of the Treasury. And we are supposed to believe that this tells us anything much about Scotland as an independent country! They must think our heads zip up the back.

But the main point I want to leave with you is how much does the London government know, that we don’t know – for them a known known, for us an unknown known for we don’t have access to the dope. Why don’t they make it public and be done with it? If it was bad news for indy then I have no doubt that they would do exactly that. But they don’t. Do they?

Kinnock and Reality

Some of you may have heard Kinnock’s speech to the PLP on Monday 4th July. Some of you might have read it. But I would guess a lot of people have not. I want to look at parts of it more closely to offer some kind of perspective on what is going on in Westminster just now.

Kinnock starts by pointing to his own successes (though 1992 never gets a mention, a’ right!) and does a number on Ed Miliband – he failed the “supermarket test” – people just would not vote for him.

Corbyn is disposed of in the relation of a conversation Neil had with someone in Cardiff, which he said was typical of many such conversations, who said Corbyn was “weird”. Of course he is trying to relate to the claims being made by most of the Labour MPs who are against Corbyn, that he is “weird” (or similar), or a decent man but not up the job (and Angela Eagle is? Oh dear!) and not electable. We can only take Neil’s word for it, but he was PM ……….. oh, wait a minute, he wasn’t. But hey, he is a Lord!

Ironically of course, Kinnock fails to mention that the same argument he puts up against Corbyn is pretty much the argument put against him in 1992. Remember this?


It is hardly a new tactic, to portray a leader who is perceived as a danger to the established consensus – currently, Trident (remember when Kinnock was in CND?), privatisation, and austerity – unacceptable, and a threat to the community. It is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of the current mess the Labour Party is in that one part of it is using the tactics of its enemies.

But then Kinnock goes on, “but you know, everybody in this room knows, as we’ve seen in the Welsh elections, in the Scottish elections, in the local elections, in the referendum, you know that is what you’re getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader. Let’s face the fact.”

And what fact might that be Neil? Here are two for you. In April, yougov released a poll showing Corbyn – yep that weird guy – was more popular than David Cameron (note the date, however – this was before the EU referendum – since then of course Cameron has had all the popularity of a dose of an anti-social disease) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/new-poll-shows-cameron-less-popular-than-corbyn-for-first-time-a6974891.html. The newspaper (the Independent) report on shares similarities to the Kinnock tirade, since they attempt to explain the outcome of the poll by Cameron’s declining support. But the fact is that the graph they present, while it shows Cameron’s support falling away, Corbyn’s is actually increasing (Corbyn’s numbers in red and Cameron’s in blue)


A more recent yougov poll suggests that Labour party members are increasingly confident of winning the next election with Corbyn as leader. Of course one might expect members to expect their party to win, and given that, what is important is the trend.


Even the most recent yougov poll – end June, and the battering that Corbyn has had pretty much non-stop since the EU referendum – shows that while support for him has cooled somewhat, it is still net positive.


So despite the evidence that his approval ratings are better than the current PM’s were before the referendum vote, and Labour party members by a majority are happy with the job he is doing, the problems of the Labour Party are consistently attributed to Corbyn.

In Scotland it has nothing, nothing at all, to do with Labour campaigning with the Tories during the 2014 referendum? Or that its policies are perceived to be ill-thought through, irrelevant, or reflex responses to what the SNP are doing? In one case support for increasing the Scottish Rate of Income Tax actually fell when the question about the self-same policy included reference to the Labour Party.

The view in the PLP, exemplified by Kinnock is that ‘We need to talk about Jeremy’, and as long as that is the received wisdom that Labour acts on, it has no need to try to address its policy failings, which saw it lose Scotland – a Labour heartland for my adult life – and on the basis of the EU referendum outcome, it looks as if the jackets of its north of England MPs might be on shoogly nails as well. But, nope, it’s all about Corbyn and as long as that is the paradigm, they don’t need to look any further, or at anything else. Put Angela Eagle in the job and all will be well (sarcasm alert!).

Then the speech takes a slightly different turn when he says “Nobody has ever said, Dennis [Skinner], that this parliamentary party considers itself or should be considered to be more important than the rank and file, whether they paid three quid or whether they’ve given their lives to this movement. Whether they’ve threatened their managers, whether they’ve ruined their careers through their commitment to this movement. Nobody has said, ever, however recent or long-established members’ party membership is, that we are superior.”

It’s hard to disagree with this, particularly as, as Kinnock points out, it was he and others who “worked like hell – Dennis, myself and many others – to change that to make sure that the rank and file would have a direct voice, that trade unions would be part of it, councils would be part of it, activists would be part of it, so we got one member one vote”. Fine.

But then…………… But then Kinnock subverts the whole thing, by reference to the decision of the Labour Party in 1918 to reject Syndicalism and Revolutionary Socialism, and instead to adopt a “Parliamentary Road to Socialism”. This Kinnock argues makes it “vital, essential, irreplaceable, that the leader of this party has substantial – at least substantial, if not majority – support from those who go to the country and seek election to become lawmakers“.

It is easy to concede that the leader being acceptable to the PLP is certainly very desirable, but if, at the margin (as Economists put it) the preferred candidate of the “three quid” members and the rest is not the preferred candidate of the elected MPs, then what? For instance, it seems clear that Theresa May is the preferred candidate of the Conservative MPs, but what if Andrea Leadsom proves to be more like “one of us” as far as their members are concerned, and land the MPs (and the country) with her instead of Theresa? This possibility for the Tories is exactly the reality of the Labour Party just now.

The important issue is how they react, and the reaction of the PLP is not edifying. With the ball at their feet and the Tories in utter disarray, the PLP has retired to the dressing room to try to sack their captain.

Of course, the Labour MPs might have made the best of it – as I suspect the Tories will if they get landed with Andrea. But we now have the idiocy of someone who could manage only 4th in the election last year for a Deputy Leader, challenging the successful Leadership candidate who was elected with 60% of the vote.

All of this, I would argue is confirmed by Kinnock in his conclusion – that it is “crucial to have a leader that enjoys the support of the parliamentary Labour party.” Or put another way, the membership – who he has “fought like hell to involve” – can elect whoever they want, just as long as he (or she) is acceptable to the PLP. Sort of like the Henry Ford dictum that the customer could have any colour of Model T that they wanted, as long as it was black.

As before, where there is a meeting of minds of the PLP and the membership, this would be ideal, but what Kinnock has said is that when the chips are down, when we are at the margin, the leader has to be someone who “enjoys the support of the parliamentary Labour party”. It does seem as though for Neil, some members, some voters, are more important or influential than others, in the democracy of the Labour Party.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Why does Corbyn not have the support of the PLP? The main reason seems to be that he is weird, and probably failed the supermarket test with Honours? Perhaps too because he never did have the support of the PLP who would have been much more comfortable, probably, with Andy Burnham, for the policies that Corbyn has espoused over the many years he has been in Parliament are not those of the mainstream PLP. While there will be a democratic vote between candidates for constituency nomination, those they can vote on is controlled by the party, because the party – and its MPs – know best. To this end the candidate list has been pretty thoroughly Blairised over the last 10-15 years. Constituency parties are not only enjoined to have women-only short-lists but to nominate from those approved by the Labour Party, often with trade union influence.

Right now the MPs are predominantly Blairite (one explanation for the current timing of moving against Corbyn is that they wanted him out of the way before he could apologise for Iraq, and the beloved Blair’s involvement, on behalf of the Party https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2016/06/still-iraq-war-stupid/). Yet rather than debate his policies, Corbyn is condemned for two reasons – first because “he’s weird”, but mainly that his policies differ from the received wisdom of Labour Party policies, which took it to its lowest vote for many years, and allowed Cameron a majority that few thought he could achieve. Someone will have to explain that strategy to me again!

Lastly, we used a negative pic of Neil above, so let’s finish with one that shows where he is now.


Kinnock said just last year that his “political hero” was Nai Bevan who said of the House of Lords that to frustrate the will of the 1945 Labour government, it “would resurrect its “old cartel carcase” and try and put it between the Government and the will of the people”.